Interwiew King Risk


By Vincent Morgan |  Published on Monday, July 18, 2011.

Interview of the famous Risk WC, MSK, AWR, 7TH. Let's talk about graffiti in Los Angeles, his exhibition with Cooz at 111 Minna Gallery, education and graffiti over-criminalization.

FC: What has been your creative inspiration for this show at 111 Minna?

Well it’s a combination of what we have both been working on throughout our careers. We have combined the elements of Nathans work with elements of my work. Our thoughts, dreams, views and reflections are in a perfect synchronization. I feel these are the most successful collaborations we have done to date. I think it goes back to knowing each other so well, we know how to adapt and what works well together. You can’t explain this sort of thing. You will see all of our iconic traits juxtaposed to create some real nice pieces. All of which utilize our techniques and thought processes from past and present… Hence the title of the show…”That Was Then This Is Now” It is a nice survey of where we’ve come from and where we are…

FC: Tell us about you and Cooz, you have had a lifetime of collaborations.  What do you find inspiring about his work & what new things can we expect in San Francisco?

Well first many people don’t know Nathan Ota, wrote Cooz. He was actually the other half of the original "aerosolic" type team in my writing career. Now when I say that I have to be very clear, Nathan wasn’t in Aerosolics or anything like that. I just mean he was my first dynamic duo type of graffiti rocking partner so to speak. He rocked the characters and I rocked the letters. We met at University high school very early in my writing career. I remember seeing these calendars in the halls, every month. They said happy Halloween or whatever holiday was that month and they had the month spelled out. Although they were done in brush paint, I could tell they had some graffiti influence. It turned out Nathan Ota did these calendars. We were in different art classes but soon enough our paths were crossing. He had Mrs. Nicholson and I had Mr. Citron. They were the two art teachers who shared an office between their adjoining art classrooms.

Nate and I both got away with murder at Uni Hi. Our art teachers bailed us out of trouble time and time again. Mr. Citron had my back and Mrs. Nicholson his. As I would go chill in Mr. Citrons office convincing him to give me an off campus pass, or an excuse for missing a prior class the day before, or even later that day so I could go surf. He would chill and smoke cigarettes and talk about art and critique other students artwork. Then one day in the office that very few students probably ever saw the inside of, Nathan and I crossed paths. I think the teachers had us do a calendar or something together, I don't really remember. I do remember however talking Graff.... Later I asked Nathan to join WCA. and I brought him to pan pacific, to meet the crew. It was really crazy, Because Rival ( RIP) whom was also named Nathan knew Nathan from Junior High school. Everyone clicked and he was down.

Because Cooz and I were the only WC members at Uni Hi at the time, we rolled together a lot. We went painting every chance we got and we did these little productions. I would rock the letters and he would rock the characters. His characters were way advanced at the time. Mostly because everything was so natural. He could just bust anything anywhere. He was also proficient with the airbrush so he used a few traditional airbrush techniques that were really cool back then. My favorite thing was his Girls, I was a horny High school kid so I always wanted a chick on my pieces. He was probably just as horny because he specialized in these girl characters. Nathan and I both won national scholastic art awards and received scholarships. we went to different schools and drifted apart. I got way more serious about my Graff and Nate got way more serious about illustration.



Work from the exhibition at 111 Mina with Cooz.



Nate took a more traditional route, but in true Cooz fashion stayed at the top of his game. He went on to be a fine art professor at Otis Parsons Art institute. He later told me he had heard some of his students at Otis Parsons talk about me and had been loosely following me, but had not told any of them he was an old writer. One day he had come across some students doing some sort of Graffiti project at school and couldn't resist the itch to catch a throw up. After that, he dropped some science on his students about old school graffiti. He got my Web site info from them and hit me up. After catching up I told him I was painting a wall downtown and invited him to stop by.  It was great seeing Nathan, a few days later he came by my studio to check out some of my work and show me what he has been working on as well. After playing with some new paints and showing him all the new techniques, caps, and colors etc. He dug in his bag of tricks and showed me a few things he had learned as well. After about 10 minutes we decided to do a few collaborations. We have been working together ever since. It has really been very refreshing! We have both opened our eyes to some exciting new techniques, style and perspectives.


FC: What have you found the hardest to cope with as the Graff community has changed since you got started?

Definitely the City Officials, the negative spin and fake propaganda used to lobby against graffiti artists is definitely hard to swallow. They do not differentiate between gang writing , tagging, or graffiti art…. They lump everything together, it’s like anything done with spray paint is bad. It’s really crazy that they get away with that. You would think the press is smarter than that.



Below a piece done by Risk 20 years ago and still running in Santa Monica. Want more amazing oldschool pieces? Check his website



FC: What do you find is the most striking difference between Los Angeles and San Francisco?

I don’t know it’s really cool up there, because it’s like a big city but still has a West Coast vibe. People are more open and receptive to the art. But compared to Los Angeles and our city officials, I feel like that everywhere I go now.

FC: Has anything unexpected come out of your participation in MOCA’s exhibit? 

New collaborations in progress? I’m working on a lot of cool stuff. Lately the most exciting project is collaboration with the Dennis Hopper estate. I’m doing a show where I will be embellishing some of his original images. We are doing some cool stuff, but I can’t really get into it because were still formulating. I’m also doing a huge mural in conjunction with Heal the Bay. Its pretty cool, were going to rattle a few city feathers on that one….

FC: If you could have included 5 additional artists in the "Art in the Streets" exhibit, who would you have liked to seen there?

Haze, Mare, Seen, (a tribute section to many graffiti artists who have passed away) and a wild card so to speak someone like Dennis Hopper or the Los angels Fine Art Squad, they’re not Graff artists but they have the same mentality and parallel worlds.



FC: What do you think about Brooklyn Art Museum backing out of hosting the show?

Well it was beyond they’re control due to budget issues. Its unfortunate but the economy is suffering and its very understandable…I can tell you it’s not due to some whacko chick in a pink dress though. I heard she was trying to claim she was the reason…desperate, very desperate…

FC: In some interviews you said that your parents weren't supportive of you pursuing the arts, and in others you have mentioned your daughters and their own drawings.  How do you support them in their own art, and what kind of art are they pursuing?

My daughters are very young, so they’re art is very explorative. They are constantly trying new things. Sometimes I say hey lets go paint, and they say no dad I want to draw with my crayons, but real big like your paintings, so I set up a huge panel and they go to town. Today she wanted to finger paint. Its always different but the thing I find interesting is how serious they take it. My five year old is very good, She draws everything and it’s all easily decipherable. She also likes to create sculptures with totalitarian objects. Her favorite thing is car parts she gravitates towards old hot rod parts. Its really crazy because I was drawn to that as well, one of the earliest memories of drawings I remember drawing was a dragster. I’m really careful not to push them. They are exposed to a lot of art and crazy uncles! We go to Museums and just have fun with it. It’s amazing what they pick up.

FC: Along that lines, does graffiti and street art have a role in the future of art education for children?

Yes because it is now well over a quarter of a century old with aerosol paint. Graff without aerosol goes back to Cavemen. It has too much history to be ignored any longer. It has endured the test of time, proven it not to be a fad. Now it’s more mainstreams, which makes it more accessible. With all the recent activity, especially the MOCA show, Graffiti art has made its place in the history books.


Risk and Smash137 at Moca



FC: Lets get back to you and graf:  If you could get up in one place without a chance of catching legal heat, where would you pick and why?
The Hollywood sign, but the whole sign, I want to change it to RISKYWOOD. …My uncles band changed it to RAFFEY SOD back in the late eighties and I’ve always wanted to do it, I planned it out and a few times, always one step behind the new security at that time…. We used to go party on the sign when we were younger, we caught tags and shit like that but I wanted to do the whole sign. Kind of funny, when SEEN did that we never really thought about that, we thought it was a waste and you wouldn’t be able to see it, then after he did that we kicked ourselves in the ass, we couldn’t believe all those times we were up there and we never did that! We never thought about that placement, we were too stoned or trying to get laid or something out of dazed and confused…He killed it with that one!

FC: What are your thoughts on the show at MOCA? Do you think everyone was well represented? Should more people from L.A. be in it?

Art in the Streets is the most important and impressive graffiti show to date. It’s truly amazing; I’ve been numerous times and continue to see new things that blow me away. But what you really want to talk about is L.A. people who are not in it and why, so here’s my view: First of all, the big misconception is that it’s an L.A. show. It's not, Art in the Streets is a show highlighting and focusing the most prevalent and prolific street artists from around the world; gallery artists at that. Sure, if it was an L.A. show, there should have been more people in it, but considering that it wasn't, I feel L.A. did very well. Many of these artists that are complaining are not gallery artists, active and/or relevant. I think L.A. as a whole should be happy that we have as many people as we do in the show. If you look at the big picture, L.A. has made a huge impact. So, basically, anyone from L.A. hating on the show is hating on L.A.

What about the controversial Blu mural on the side of the building? Do you think it should have been buffed? I know you worked on the new mural. Tell us about it.

[RISK, in his best Reagan voice] Well, Nancy, I don’t think it should have been buffed, but I don’t have to answer to the powers that be. [Normal voice] Personally, I believe everyone has the right to paint or to say what they feel. However, if you don’t own that wall or building, you run the risk of your work getting buffed. It goes with the territory. I understand both sides 100 percent. Maybe both parties should have communicated a little better prior to the incident. I cannot comment because I do not know the details. But now to the most important part of the question: our mural! Just kidding.
The mural on the outside of MOCA is really Lee Quinones’ project. I was just proud to be a part of it. I’m a huge fan of Lee. I grew up looking at his early stuff. FUTURA, CERN, SANO, ABEL and myself worked on it based on Lee’s overall concept. The Native American girl wearing the headdress with feathers floating across the mural represents birds of a feather flocking together, like graffiti artists have done for years. The Constitution represents us as graffiti artists, solidifying our art as a unified movement. The locomotive train represents our movement that can’t be stopped; if you look close it has a coal car filled with cans instead of coal, this is the fuel that powers the train. It also has an arrow in the train. This is the criticism and bullshit we as graffiti artists deal with daily, and the final “what you write” is an acknowledgement to other writers and acts like a signature on our declaration of independence. We are saying, “Hey, we are here! Graffiti art is a legitimate art form, like it or not! It’s here; we’re here!”


Blu's wall at the MOCA.



A portion of the wall by Lee Quinone, et al.

Revok should be finishing up his time in jail very soon.  His bail was $320,000, which kicked off a huge storm (#freerevok). What are your thoughts? 

Listen, I’m old school. If you do the crime, be prepared to do the time. I believe anyone who breaks the law is subject to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I’m not here to ask for amnesty or leniency for anyone who has broken the law.  I do, however, question the extent to which local jurisdiction is going to prosecute certain artists. I’m not a lawyer or city official but something seems out of whack. $320,000.00 bail for a graffiti artist? I’ve heard of criminals who have been busted for heroin trafficking and attempted murder, Rape, and child molestation for less! Something is definitely not right! What they did to Revok saddens me. Beyond the fact that he is my brotha from anotha, and is someone who has been there for me personally and professionally for years. He is a great artist and true inspiration. He is the most stand up guy, period! But beyond all that, its really disappointing knowing the city is able to conduct in such a manner. It really makes me loose faith in our justice system.

I believe REVOK needs all the help he can get to even the playing field. I know it is absurd to say free him and drop all charges, but so is all the time, money and effort the city has spent on prosecuting him. This is money that you and I pay! We should have the right to say, Hey enough is enough, issue your warrant, deal with him accordingly, etc. But the city has gone further than that—harassing companies that work with him, intimidating people that know him, placing people under surveillance, etc. This costs money, and I’d much rather that money go to people harming children or committing violent crimes. I believe they need to allocate money according to what we need to correct the most.
People think I hate the city officials and police—I don’t. I understand their position and I realize their plight. I simply speak up because I feel the public needs to be educated on the difference between all the different forms of graffiti. If you are clueless to the whole graffiti subculture, it’s easy to read the press and say all graffiti is vandalism and bad. But that is not the case. There is a clear difference between tagging, piecing, gang writing and street art. It’s so crazy the way the city lumps it all together as graffiti vandals. I just want the people to know the difference and know where their money is going. The city manipulates the press to justify the money they spend for personal vendettas. For example, there is a hundred times more gang writing and tagging than there is graffiti art, yet the city has concentrated all their efforts on arresting a few graffiti artists. Why? Because their stuff is prettier and more readable than the rest? It doesn’t make sense.

FC: If you could only paint in black, white, and one additional color, what color would that be?
That’s a hard one any color can work with black and white! I’d say red …or purple…

FC: Finally, any advice to the young ones getting started these days?

Do what you do, and be you…….


Risk's official Website


Risk on FatCap




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